Can You Live Without Microsoft?

One expert evaluates the necessity of Microsoft software.
Magazine Contributor
5 min read

This story appears in the July 2000 issue of Subscribe »

When my computer comes on in the morning, there it is: the Microsoft logo signaling Windows 98 kicking into action. Soon Microsoft icons cover my desktop-Word, Excel, Internet Explorer and more. But with Microsoft judged a certified villain by the federal government, am I guilty by association with all my use of Microsoft stuff? Are you? For any entrepreneur, these are more than academic questions because if there's anything we should be against, it's big guys who deny oxygen to little companies.

Hold your snickers, Mac users, because you're in no better shape when it comes to using Microsoft software. If you don't believe that, click here.

Can we purge ourselves of complicity by ridding our computers of Microsoft software? This morning that question gnawed at my brain and I set off to find the facts for homebased entrepreneurs who don't have much time or technical expertise. For starters, what about Linux, the so-called "open source" operating system that's winning fans and offers from the Windows operating system?

The bad news: Linux, even in its more consumer-friendly guises, isn't an open-the-box-and-off-we-go piece of software. I've read the reviews, talked with friends who've installed it, and, yeah, it's a viable option...but not for homebased users who don't have lots of patience or computer expertise. Linux may even offer more stability than Windows 98 (meaning it doesn't crash often), but it also offers little of the ease-of-use of Windows 98-an operating system that's admirably simple, visual and polished. A few years from now, maybe Linux will offer a real option because it keeps evolving, but I know I'm nowhere near yanking Windows 98 off my computer.

At least I could zap Microsoft application software, right? Let's find out, program by program. Here, I'll go over the important apps I use every day and you can do likewise. At the end, we'll know how easy it is to exorcise this devil from our hard drives.

  • Microsoft Word. It's the office mainstay, but a sturdy, good alternative exists: Corel's WordPerfect. WordPerfect may not have quite so many features, but Word long ago became so feature rich, it's doubtful anybody could ever use all its enhancements.
  • Microsoft Excel. Microsoft owns the spreadsheet market, too, but there is a decent alternative: Lotus 1-2-3, once the category killer in its niche, is now an also-ran but it's still fine code.
  • Microsoft Outlook. The premier business e-mail app has a good alternative-the free Outlook Express-but that, too, is from Microsoft. Are there other apps? Poco is good shareware, but it isn't free. Verdict: Most users are stuck with using a Microsoft e-mail app.
  • Microsoft PowerPoint. It's the standard presentation software application. Nothing rivals it.
  • Microsoft Money. Breathe easily because Quicken is every bit as good-maybe better-for tracking personal finance.
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer. There's no rival to MSIE. AOL, which owns Netscape, has demoed a new, updated version, but until it's on lots of desktops and shows it works, Netscape can no longer be counted as a viable alternative to the far slicker and more stable MSIE.

Are you getting the picture? We could cut Microsoft out of daily routines-at least on the application side-but it wouldn't be easy or fun, In some cases, we'd have to resort to decidedly inferior software just to make a statement that we won't abide this Charlie Manson of software makers. For every instance where a Quicken is hands-down better than the Microsoft product, there's a counter-instance of MSIE, where, honestly, the competition long ago left the field.

No matter what the courts decide, here's my verdict: Microsoft may have done unkind things to competitors in its race for monopoly power, but for now, it sure makes some dandy software and I know I'm not going to delete it all from my machine. How about you?

Robert McGarvey covers the Web-and plays with the latest cool gadgets-from his home office in Santa Rosa, California. Visit his Web page at

Microsoft Rules The Mac

A Powerbook 3400 is my traveling companion, and surely, when I boot up that Apple, I am purged of Microsoft's villainy. Hah! Yes, the operating system-Mac OS 9-is free of any Microsoft connection. But when I write a document, it's in Microsoft Word-and for Mac users, there is no real competitive software aimed at business users. When I manipulate spreadsheets, it's with Microsoft Excel. When I browse the Net, it's with Microsoft Internet Explorer. As for e-mail, I use Microsoft's Outlook Express. In each case, this is the best software there is that runs on the Mac platform.

Determined Microsoft bashers could use Apple Works, an all-in-one application with a word processor, spreadsheet, etc., but that's more suited to personal use than business use. Netscape could replace IE, but IE is much slicker. And no e-mail package written for the Mac comes close to matching Microsoft's Outlook Express. Jettisoning this software in a search for a computer freed from Microsoft's rule would be a big mistake-at least I won't do it.

Incidentally, Microsoft's role on the Mac platform is not accidental. In 1997, Microsoft stunningly invested $150 million in an Apple Computer that was on its deathbed. When Microsoft announced this infusion of cash, it rocked the computer world, as pundits searched for a "why." Microsoft also promised to continue developing Mac software, and this was at a time when other developers were looking askance at the then-shrinking Mac market. At the end of the day, no one really knows why Microsoft did this, but it's indisputable that the money pumped new life into Apple. In retrospect, the Microsoft investment looks brilliant, as Apple has made quite a turnaround. But an ironic upshot is that Microsoft may now have more decisive rule over Apple users than over PC users, given the federal ruling.

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